Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I ♡ NY ≠ I Hate DC

What is it hater? Why you gotta be like this? And Politico, you Benedict Arnold, shame on you for running it...while yes, we should strive to be both self-analytical and self-critical in our quest to achieve high culinary standards, I have to agree with foodies elsewhere. This snobbish lack of effort is not to be tolerated.

At least, however, there are some NYTimes journalists who can manage to be objective and to celebrate rather than rain on the parade that was Obama's inauguration. It also seems that Gourmet, with Alice Waters in tow, mind you, (but what does she know?!!) and celebs galore found the local offerings tolerable. Bon Appetit, on the other hand, seems to be in Marian Burros' camp, though I understand BA's focus is not necessarily on restaurant dining.

It's a standing feud...it's not likely to go away anytime soon...While I stand firmly on the southern side of this divide, perhaps we can learn from this. In no way do I profess to be some savant, but I've traveled a bit and I've eaten quite a bit. I've eaten quite a bit in quite a few restaurants, including a few in NY. I think DC is truly coming into its own, and hopefully, this most recent spotlight will result in a favorable, rather than downwardly nasal view. So, next time your friends are in town from MAn-HAt-An, take them out and show them what we have to offer.

Full disclosure: I have to agree with Burros' take on Marcel's...What is up with Robert Weidmaier lately?

Not horrible, but not worth it: Marcel's

Our inaugural weekend visit to Marcel's was enjoyable enough, but not worthy of recent rankings in several of DC's top ten lists. First, let me say that we were impressed by the decor, a beautiful space with a lovely open and elevated kitchen. Also intriguing was the menu selection: can you say options? Anywhere from three to seven courses are available from between $42 and $110. Twenty-eight different offerings are spread across seven courses, that are really more like categories: appetizer, shellfish, fish, game, meat, cheese, and dessert. The menu also offers a nice variety of French wines.

The service was also exemplary. Our service captain, Theo, was helpful and attentive, but what struck me most is that he truly believes in Marcel's cuisine and chef Robert Wiedmaier. For my taste, however, there were far too many courses not to be believed in...the snails were chewy, the scallop and foie gras not seared enough, and the tuna over seared, almost cooked. The meat and game were much more pleasing, in particular an herby bison filet, and venison roast served with a perfect root vegetable purée. At first, we weren't enticed by the dessert and cheese options but when we saw a soufflé go by, we changed our minds - personally, I'm always a sucker for a souffle. Unfortunately, this hazelnut example just wasn't the best, though curiously plenty of diners arrived just for dessert.

I come away with the conclusion that Wiedmaier's talents are chops, roasts, and charcuterie, which are on better and less expensive display at Brasserie Beck. For my money, Marcel's isn't worth the price.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A secretary of defense and former president drive into a strip mall....Peking Gourmet

On Chinese New Year, it seems only appropriate to welcome our new Commander in Chief to the area by sharing a little insight to a presidential right of passage - Peking Gourmet in Falls Church. You see, never have we arrived at PG to find that we could be seated at reservation time (or within a half hour thereof, for that matter). I'm repeatedly reminded of the classic Seinfeld car rental reservation episode, yet we consistently subject ourselves to a situation like this other Seinfeld episode (though with a huge crowd participating in the wait with us) .

Why do we wait? Is it to see the high-ranking legislative and executive branch folks that we count as our local celebrities? No, only once did that turn out to be a true A-list DC politician (or two): Bill and Hillary strategizing her presidential campaign bid with Terry McCullough. More often, it's instead been folks like William Cohen. Is it because Mr. and Mrs. Tsui are so good at charming their customers who get so tired of waiting? No, even though the Tsuis are incredibly talented at making you feel that you are at the very top of their priority list. Is it because of joy of the countless family gatherings we've celebrated here? Well, no (please, family, forgive me), as much as I enjoy the memories, this just isn't it.

No, we keep coming back, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting, and waiting (you get the point) because the food is simply that good. You will not find Peking duck, salt and pepper shrimp, black bean sea bass, or bean curd family style (just a few of our favorites) quite like this anywhere else in the area. This is why we, and other large crowds, continue to return, and continue to wait. Once the first bite hits your tongue, you've suddenly forgotten the forty-five minutes you were standing in a cramped room. Some may say that PG is not the same as it once was, but that is not what the crowds tell me.

Now, I'm quite certain Obama will not have to wait...in fact, the special secure room is likely to be available just in case. However, even if he did, I think he might deem the wait worth it as well.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Caribbean Dreams

We finally took our late "summer" beach trip, postponed by hurricanes, airlines, and every other roadblock that nature and fate could throw at us.

Traveling to the Cove at Paradise Island in the Bahamas, we were more then tempted to try their signature restaurant, an outpost of Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill. While Southwestern flavors are not my favorite for refined cuisine, I was still excited to try a new taste. Seafood and steak "reigned supreme" on the menu, though I found these dishes to be a bit underwhelming. I preferred the chili rellano, the same one from this episode of "Throwdown". Amongst Bobby's favorite ingredients, blue cornmeal and poblano peppers are both pervasive on this menu.

We also enjoyed the buffet at the Cove, though at $70 for Friday night dinner (ouch!!), the more reasonably-priced breakfast and lunch offerings were equally impressive to us. Each offered plenty of made-to-order stations as well as fresh produce, baked goods, and desserts. One thing to keep in mind at the Cove or Atlantis, the dining options don't come cheap....while we weren't desperate enough to pay the aforementioned price for the Cove buffet, other reasonably-priced dinner options are hard to find.

Truly though, it couldn't get any worse than the the Spirit Airlines terminal at FLL. With the prospect of a flight with no water, food, or beverages, we were desperate to find something to eat at the Fort Lauderdale airport. When I say there was nothing, I might be exagerating slightly...there was a Nathan's hot dog kiosk. With the odor reeking from the place, though, I wonder about both the sanity and stomach of lining of Joey Chestnut. Alas, our best option was to travel to a Chili's in another terminal (we had a nine-hour layover, so plenty of time to do so). While my soup and salad were passable, my previously-referenced desire to revisit chains does not apply to Chili's, given my aformentioned lack of enthusiasm for Southwestern food.

Arriving home, I thanked my lucky stars for the availability of Legal Seafood and other options at Reagan, as well the plethora of options available on every street corner in this DC foodie's everyday life.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Coming soon to Clarendon...

Le Pain Quotidien is opening here...basically at the footsteps of my building. Couldn't be more thrilled about having a new pick-up shop in the area. With the seemingly endless array of full-service restaurants around Clarendon, a bakery from which to carry out breakfast and dessert is just perfect for the neighborhood. Not only this, but finally, we are able to bid goodbye to the eyesore that has made up the Southwest corner of Fillmore and Clarendon for well over two years now. This makes me almost as happy as the coming of Pret a Manger (affectionately, "Pret") to Farragut West any minute now.

I also spy a new locale from restauranteurs Nick Langman, Peter Pflug, and David Pressley. filling one of the vacant spaces in the block that Liberty Tavern and Spider Kelly's currently occupy. Eventide promises to be the newest Clarendon destination with dining and bar experiences in three distinct settings. Better yet, Eventide will occupy the Odd Fellows building at Hudson and Wilson, preserving the historic facade.

Yeah for Clarendon development...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bastille - C'Est Parfait

It is with pleasure that I write to you concerning Bastille, the French inn tucked into an otherwise nondescript industrial complex in Alexandria. First greeted by a warm, low lit room, and quasi-open kitchen, we moved on with the distraction of a very comprehensive wine list. While the emphasis on the vino is French (obviously!), I was pleased to find that Pinot selections from the Oregonian Willamette Valley also made the list. While the Rex Hill offered by the glass is no Penner Ash, it won't cost you as much and is still quite tasty.

Bastille offers a variety of tasting menus, reasonably priced from $35 to $59 for between three and six courses, as well as a la carte selections. We chose the four course menu as it offered the most choice. Instead of a salad that is advertised as the second course of the mid-priced menu, our Saturday evening menu started with an amuse bouche of pate made from pheasant, duck, and chicken livers. The flavors were smoky and deep, and the consistency was pleasant, not as rich as traditional pates. Executive Christophe Poteaux's food is self-described as "straightforwardly good". The first course was by all means an indication of that philosophy.

We then moved on to an appetizer duo of scallop and foie gras. Both proteins were seared to perfection, with neither texture overwhelming the other. All of this was topped with a scrumptious and distinct fig jam. I would not have thought to pair a scallop with foie gras, each with its own richness and individuality, but everything about this course worked perfectly.

Entrees presented the first divergence at our table, with my dining companion enjoying the short rib and myself the veal sirloin. Meat is apparently the word for the entree course at Bastille. The short rib was accompanied by a long red pepper reduction. While the meat was a bit fatty for my taste, those who who enjoy a short rib would appreciate this dish, particularly given the tenderness of the meat. I was impressed with the vegetable fricassee served alongside - though I'm sure plenty of butter was involved in the preparation, the vegetables were crisp and flavorful. My veal sirloin, served with a porcini-truffle-red wine infusion, is best described as steak "noir". Not steak au poivre. Not a pepper flavor. But likewise dark yet punchy, and satisfying too. The parmesan pomme puree was infused with an uber parmesan flavor that bordered on overwhelming. Not a side for the faint of heart when is comes to cheese, but something I enjoyed. As is often the case for me, the entree was anticlimactic. Nevertheless, a pleasing and might I add, quite filling course.

The evening and the meal worked themselves to perfect conclusion with dessert. Both of us migrated to the maple flan choice. I am a sucker for deep-fried sage leaves, so this topping for the flan, along with maple-glazed walnuts, sang to me. The flan and coffee just capped off the meal with bliss. Pastry chef and wife Michelle Poteaux-Garbee knows what she's doing (I hear that her specialty, a spiced pear and blue panna cotta is also out of this world)!!

C'est parfait!!! That's all there is to say. Bastille was perfect meal - value, selection quality, flavor, charming ambiance, perfect.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Should have obtained a patent

Yes, I realize that this story has already been covered to the saturation point in both local and national media outlets. I also realize that I'm late to the punch. I just just cannot help myself. This is too much.

LeBron, we know you are "the One". Please note, however, there are those of us that do not, like you, believe that you are God. Yes, you are a pretty damn good basketball player. Yes, you may be able to demand an astronomical salary, dictate popular culture, and hold the NY/NJ metro area captive as to whether you will grace them with your presence. But, sir, you are no deity. Please, shut that overactive trap of yours and get that nasty smirk off your face.

Jordan was in my opinion, the best basketball player in history. He commanded the court, and often, calls. Kobe is unreal - he moves on a court gracefully and effortlessly. Wilt scored over 100 in a game; need I say more? Did any of them have their very own signature crustacean-named, penalty-immune, dance to the basket? No, the simple answer is no.

Wizards fans in particular have too often been subject to LeBron-favorable calls for years, as recently as Christmas day. These calls have determined the outcome of playoff series, kept your talentless coach in a undeserved job for several seasons, and the dashed the hopes of a once-Bullets loving fan residing at my address. But just this once the call was in favor of the lowly bottom-of-the-East-dwelling Wizards. But LeBron, you just cannot accept it and move on. No, it must be the refs that got it wrong. Clearly, they don't understand.

Alas, however, the call remains. Last I checked, David Stern had not repudiated the outcome or criticized the referee at issue. No, everything actually turned out just how it should have. Everyone except you, LeBron, realizes this. As Caron Butler so eloquently put it, "there is a God." Though, LeBron, it may need to be noted, Caron was not referring to you!!